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5 Things CMOs Should Understand About Market Research

5 Things CMOs Should Understand About Market Research

Horst Feldhaeuser

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Marketing leaders, it’s time to leave behind your old ways and make a significant investment in an overhauled market research strategy

Pressure on CMOs and marketing departments has been increasing for years, and the past year has acted as an accelerator. Digital transformation, growing expectations from customers and internal audiences, shifting audience priorities and shrinking budgets are just a few of the challenges. Add the “proving ROI” layer on top of this and being a marketing leader is not for the faint of heart.

Consumer insights are at the core of the marketing function in many businesses, providing a foundation for customer-facing decision-making, communications, product development and more. While many see this as a cost center in their marketing budgets, I’ve repeatedly seen primary research deliver ROI for large organizations when treated as an investment. It is, as I outline further, business-critical—and there are ways to do it more effectively and efficiently. Over the years, I have identified a few things I wish CMOs and marketing leaders knew about market research and consumer insights. Here are five of them.

Primary Research Is Business-Critical

There has never been a more important time to understand consumer and business behavior. Primary research allows you to hear firsthand from your audience about their feelings, actions and planned actions on an issue or topic that is important to your business. From surveys to individual interviews, methodologies abound and can be customized to address questions that directly need strategic, data-driven answers. The bottom line: This kind of research is essential in gaining the in-depth insights necessary to stay informed of swiftly changing audience perceptions and overall market conditions. It’s not the one and only, but should be part of your repertoire—it’s worth the investment.

Bringing everything together is the only way to deliver actionable insights for decision-making. And we need systems that can do this elegantly and with ease, so we can immediately see relationships among the data for better understanding.

Holistic Customer Views Are Necessary

While primary research, such as survey responses, can give you the “why,” other data sets can give you the “what.” For consumer insights to work, multiple streams of data must be brought together for the big picture. This can include everything from sales data, big data, business metrics, passive behavioral information, social listening data and more. Bringing everything together is the only way to deliver actionable insights for decision-making. And we need systems that can do this elegantly and with ease, so we can immediately see relationships among the data for better understanding.

Crosstabs Are a Waste of Time (and Money)

I said it. This outdated way of sifting through and reporting on data is costing valuable resources. And yet, researchers are still using crosstabs, hundreds of Excel tables with static data—just like it was 1990. Insights are hiding in your data that may not be easily revealed by doing simple crosstabs. Innovations are now available to allow insights to shine—and truly influence business outcomes – by offering interactive, dynamic, online analysis and reporting. These kinds of efficiencies can instantly deliver a data-driven foundation for insights generation and decision-making across a company. There needs to be a frank conversation among leaders and an insistence that things be done differently.

Completely New Insights Are Rare

What we call “insights” these days is often not more than information. Those “aha” moments—the brand new nuggets of truth that shock and amaze us—are few and far between. However, the insights that we do glean from the data, “aha” or not, will provide a solid foundation on which to base decisions, providing a roadmap for every stakeholder in the company—including marketers, R&D departments, brand managers, salespeople and executive team members. But we need to make those foundational nuggets accessible without multiple time-consuming steps along the way, and this means leaving traditional, manual processes behind.

Data Has No Value

That is, until it is shared and used for action. Companies make large investments in collecting and storing data, but the true value is realized when positive business actions and decisions are traced directly back to that data. The first step in this process is allowing stakeholders to interact with data, gain understanding from it and take actions prompted by that understanding. This doesn’t have to be scary—different roles have different needs when it comes to data analysis and reporting. The right solution can offer tiered permissions and access that will allow people to dig into the data and find the insights that will drive better strategies. Give these people the power to get that value. Share knowledge, ideas and learnings widely, among teams, partners and other stakeholders. This is the only way to get a genuine ROI on data investments.

When everything around us is changing at a rapid pace, brands absolutely must stay a step ahead of their audiences in order to succeed. Now more than ever, an investment in market research can have significant payoff and a positive impact on outcomes. CMOs, it is time to maximize the value of your market research program by leaving behind cumbersome ways of doing things, and approaching the insights function with an eye toward the future.


Horst Feldhaeuser is group services director for Infotools. He is a multi-award-winning research professional with more than two decades of experience in market research, marketing and business consulting.